Janie Yvonne was named after my grandmother.
But our family calls her Janie Beyond, because she is always pushing herself beyond everyone’s expectations, what the world thinks is possible, and her own comfort zone.
Janie, my cousin’s daughter, is 12 years old. She was born with Achondroplasia (a form of dwarfism) and has knocked our socks off ever since. When she was born, my uncle said she would “make us all better people” and she has.
I recently had a heart-to-heart with Janie, where I asked, “What’s the best and worst thing about being little?” Janie did not have to think long about her answers, and she seemed happy I asked. It gave her the opportunity to talk about the things she likely thinks about every day of her life.
“The best part is that I don’t have to do as many chores as the rest of my family,” she said. “The worst part is the way people stare and talk about me.”
I asked Janie to explain her second comment. Her sweet words broke my heart in two.
“When I go somewhere new,” she said, “people point at me. They hold their hand over their mouth and giggle…and it hurts my feelings.”
I can’t imagine walking a day in Janie’s shoes. But what’s interesting is that Janie wasn’t sad about sharing any part of her life with me. She immediately responded, hugged me, and then said she wanted to go back to playing with the rest of the family during our annual ski vacation.
The following day, while I was doing what all good mothers do on vacation (relaxing on the couch, by the fire, while the kids were out skiing), I heard that Janie was looking for a ski buddy.
At first, I was hesitant to volunteer. How would she get down the hill? Could I keep her safe?
Then, I slapped my selfish-self across the face, got off the couch, and volunteered to help.
If Janie was game, I was game.
Out on the slopes, Janie was ahead of me, setting the pace. My only job was to slow her down so she didn’t get hurt.
To say that my experience with Janie was exhilarating would be an understatement.As she dragged me down the mountain, I thought back to our conversation the night before. I hated that people judged Janie because of her size.
While everyone else on the slopes bitched and moaned about how cold it was and that the resort made too much snow, Janie said no such thing. She never complained. She never cried. She was determined to do what everyone else was doing, and I was determined to follow her lead.
I was so proud to ski behind her. The entire time she dragged me down the mountain, I wanted to shout, “Look at this girl go. I’m with her!!!!!!”
The sixth time down the mountain, I happened to look up and notice that the people riding on the ski lift above our heads were watching Janie ski.
I knew they were watching, since they were pointing. And staring. But this time, her audience was smiling instead of laughing.
They were in awe.
To get to the bottom of the mountain, each time, we’d pass under at least 40 different chairs on the ski lift—each filled with four to six people. Their response was always the same: point at Janie, elbow the person sitting next to them, everyone smiles.
And every time I saw their grins and admiration, I cried. They thought Janie was as amazing as I do.
And man, did she wear me out. My legs and tear ducts were tired, but I was not going to say a word. I skied until Janie couldn’t ski anymore.
From our time together, Janie taught me:
- Ask people the hard questions. I think people shy away from asking tough questions. When someone we know experiences a death in their family, we don’t bring up their lost loved one because we don’t want to make them sad. That’s crazy. They want you to ask about their loved one. It doesn’t make them sad; it makes them happy. Just like it made Janie happy when I asked her about being little. I don’t think a lot of people ask Janie that question…and I think she has a lot to say on the subject.
- Remember what you’re complaining about. I complain about some ridiculous things. When I spend time with Janie, I’m reminded that what I’m complaining about is, in fact, ridiculous. She has a tough life, and I’ve never heard her complain.
- If people are going to stare, give them something to look at. When we were flying down the slopes, I beamed with pride over what Janie was accomplishing. I’d venture to guess that for the rest of her life, people will stare when they see Janie. And on those slopes on that day, she said to the world, “Stare at this, people. Stare at this.”
Janie Beyond, I hope that you will always give the people around you a beautiful reason to stare.
And I will ride on your coattails any. damn. day.